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On a rare sunny May afternoon in Portland, I drove with the windows down, flipping through the stations on the radio. I was on my way to see the artist’s wife, whom I’ve decided to christen Eve since I’m tired of referring to her as the artist’s wife.

Eve isn’t young, and English isn’t coming easily to her. She is also, like many women of indeterminate age, set in her ways and not one to mete out grace. “Argh! I just can’t get it!” she says when she makes a mistake or forgets a word. She’ll hit her forehead, berate herself. And yet I’ve never had a student as dedicated as she is, bar none. She works ahead. She asks for more homework. Yet she often misses class; her days are also filled with doctor’s visits and dental work. She is losing most of her teeth, will soon have dentures but in the meantime, ashamed, wears a mask to cover her toothless grin.

Eve is 65. Her husband is 70. They have an interesting story that she has alluded to several times, although her English remains more of a barrier than an aid to conversation. She chose him, which isn’t typical for Arab marriages especially of her generation, and they come from very different backgrounds. They are in many ways an atypical couple, and I’m enjoying getting to know them.

I’ve invited them for dinner before but she has refused. I’m not sure why, but I think it is a form of shyness, even politeness. She’ll say odd things. “I’m not a good woman,” she told me, but I understand that she doesn’t mean exactly what she says. I think she means she’s not a good cook, but I’m not sure. She hints at problems in their marriage. I believe she needs a friend.

So, last week when Donn and I were both there and we weren’t really doing much English class, we invited them again. “Please?” I said to her. And she cried. “Look!” she said, pointing to her eyes. “I’m crying.” I don’t know why a simple invitation for dinner would make her cry, but at least this time she has agreed to come.

I’m also getting to know her daughter, who lives nearby with her husband. If I were to believe even half of what Eve tells me about her son-in-law, I would detest him, but I take it with a grain of salt. But her daughter, Daisy, seems fine with him. “But he needs a friend,” she tells me. “He doesn’t know any Americans.”

We should probably have invited all of them, but given Eve’s reaction, I think it’s best to go slow. Eve and the artist lived in Italy for 4 years when they were first married, and her Italian remains much better than her English. (I can often figure out the Italian word by relating it to French, so our conversations are sort of English-Arabic-Italian-French. What would we call such a language?) I’m making a lasagna, since she doesn’t currently have enough teeth for pizza. Green salad, bread. What else? Suggestions? Also, does anyone have an absolutely amazing recipe for lasagna? I hardly ever make it.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau

Saturday we decided to go for a hike down the Columbia River Gorge, home to thousands of carelessly occurring, unnamed waterfalls scattered about in abundance, as if there were not places in the world where the wind blows only sand. We went with friends who are constantly active and have been known to bike 60 miles, just for fun. We let them pick the hike. In retrospect, that might have been a mistake.

unnamed waterfall, no biggie, just one of many

We started off by parking a half mile from the trailhead, just for fun. Actually just because Saturday down the gorge is now packed with people! Who knew? We hefted our water and lunches onto our back. Ok I will be precise. Elliot carried the backpack full of camera and lenses, Donn his tripod, and Abel the lunch/water backpack. He and Ilsa and I took turns. You other mothers out there already know that meant Abel carried it with joy for the first half-mile, Ilsa whined for about ¼ mile, and I ended up carrying it most of the time.

We started up near Wahkeena Falls and endured the switchbacks with much stoicism and dry humour. Sort of, that is. We reached the top and the first lookout with great joy, as we remembered that after that, it got a lot easier. I was shocked to discover that the strict regime I’ve been under, where I sit around on my butt and eat Arab pastries (the artist’s wife told me “3 cups flour, 1 cup oil and 1 cup butter” but surely she was wrong) did little to prepare me for a six-mile hike, most of which was uphill. (Seriously, four of the six miles were uphill) We have done part of this hike before and I’ve even blogged about it.

But this time, we hardly stopped at all at Fairy Falls (although I did park my butt on a bench there till I’d caught my breath a bit) before heading on further, onward and upward! Ed opted to turn left instead of right, and so we kept going up. Up and up and up. Finally in the middle of steep hillside, we mutinied and stopped for lunch.

We opted not to do the highest loop to Devil’s Rest (which is higher than Angel’s Rest…go figure) and finally, finally, started going downhill. Donn kept stopping to photograph, as usual, and the younger kids had scampered on ahead, so for quite a while I found myself walking with Elliot. He’d put his earphones in and the silence of the woods—full of small noises of water and wind and leaves—was infiltrated by earphone noise. “You should listen to the forest,” I told him. “I have,” he said. “You should read Thoreau,” I told him. “I have,’ he said. “I went into the woods…” I began. “I know,” he said. Stupid AP US history/Amer Lit class he’s taking! I resorted to mumbling Yeats at him underneath my breath, but he remained unmoved, although we did have a nice chat about the essay he’s writing on “Night” before the headphones went back in.

this is a tiny waterfall over mossy rocks by the side of the trail

By this time, we were on a trail I hadn’t hiked before, and we came down by the prettiest little falls. There was a plaque, and this falls is named something like Weizendanger, which totally sounds like a name Donn would make up.

Abel and his friend Van scampered everywhere.

At the time this didn’t bother me at all but I woke up in the middle of the night and had nightmares about this. What if he’d fallen? This river is about to fall 627 feet onto sharp rocks. I had to get up and hug Abel.

We came eventually to the top of Multnomah Falls, which is the biggest and most famous of all the falls. My very earliest memory is of these falls; I have a vague memory of walking a small part of the trail and what I really remember is that my Mum bought a cup of hot tea (she was addicted) and spilled it on my arm in the car and burned me. That is my earliest memory—beauty and pain. I’m pretty sure that explains something but I don’t know what. Any psychologists out there?

Donn and Ed refused to believe I came up there at the age of 2, in spite of the myriad toddlers and babies that were there, in backpacks and strollers and exhausted parents’ arms.

So we stood at the top (see the parking lot far below? And remember, we’ve already come about a mile downhill at this point) and admired the view, then we staggered down another 11 switchbacks to the bottom, where there was a toilet. Thankfully.

Most of the first part of the falls

view from the bottom showing both parts of Multnomah Falls

I could barely walk the next day.

So we’re going back next Saturday.

Books! It’s time again for Five Minutes for Books monthly round-up of what we’re reading, have read, plan to read, and all SORTS of other tenses!

Have Read:

Last month I read two books that I thoroughly enjoyed: The Civilized World and Daughters in Law. You should read them too. You’d love them.

Am Reading:

I’m currently in the middle of The Last Time I Saw Paris and, frankly, it’s okay but a bit disappointing. It’s the sort of book that a book club would love so there is that, if you’re in a book club. (Seriously, where are all these book clubs? Why does no one invite me to be in a book club? I am fantastic in book clubs, if you want someone who talks slightly too much but has always finished the book) It’s not bad, but I should have judged it by its cover—it’s just a bit cliché.

Am also reading Forgetting English, a collection of short stories set in locales around the world. So far, Tonga, Antarctica, and Japan. I’m enjoying it! She’s a really good writer.

Oh I’m also in the middle of Black Milk: On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Within and am thoroughly enjoying it. Elif Shafak is funny and personable and warm and relatable. Plus I had it with me and it sparked some great discussions with an Iraqi friend about how marriage and motherhood change a woman’s life, especially if she is a creative and artistic woman.

Soon I will read:

The Map of True Places: A Novel

Sisters of the Sari

Tales of an African Vet

How Shakespeare Changed Everything, since I still haven’t gotten to this one.

Starcrossed (this one Ilsa and I are both going to read and review. She danced about and hugged it because the cover was so pretty. I am viewing it with somewhat less excitement)

A bunch of library books. Which reminds me—I need to go renew the ones we already have out! Be right back…Ok now I need to go rummage through Abel’s room to find the one that couldn’t be renewed.

What tenses are you in the middle of with which books? (I could not write an equivalent sentence in French but Meredith, if you’re reading this, please do so)

When Elliot was 12 months old, I found out that not only was I pregnant again, but that there were two little heartbeats, as the technician put it, pointing to the two flashing little stars on the screen. Once I had calmed down from my initial hysterical laughter (ultrasound tech: You’re taking this very well. A lot of women cry when they find out it’s twins. Me: Um, this is hysterics. I have a one-year-old and you’re telling me I’ve having two more?), I worried about how this would affect my precious child.  We were so close. Would adding two needy tiny infants to the mix ruin his life?

As it turns out, it probably saved him from being spoiled through too much attention. And he still managed to get plenty of notice. But that’s not the point of my post.

We decided that whenever possible, Donn would take Elliot with him when he ran errands, so that Elliot could have a “special time” with Daddy. And as the twins got older, they started getting their own one-on-one times with me or Donn. We figured this was a good way to ensure that each of our 3, so close in age, got some personalized attention. We do not call these “dates” because that is a creepy term to describe taking your own child somewhere. And I have really fond memories of the various times we’ve managed to get them in throughout the years—it will come as no surprise to learn that we are not hyper-organized in this, as in anything. We do them sporadically, once or twice a year, rather than the once or twice a month originally visualized.

This too-long introduction is simply to highlight some of the pics Ilsa took on a recent outing with her dad. She took my camera.

first, they went out for pizza

then, they wandered around, photographing each other…

going into interesting-looking shops…

taking self-portraits…

photographing interesting-looking people on the street…

or standing in the rain…

they went for hot chocolate…

Ilsa coveted these tights and shoes…

and then they got back in the car…

and came home.

When I was a kid, I had a lot of cavities. My dentist in our small Canadian-prairie town had intense blue eyes, and I remember staring at them for hours as he filled my stream of never-ending cavities. I hated going to the dentist, as did every single one of my friends, but I have long felt that the best dentists should have blue eyes.

Then I didn’t go for several years, from my late teens till early 20s. I expected when I finally returned I’d have 14 cavities. And I didn’t have any! Apparently my teeth had somehow improved, gotten over their inclination to form large holes. Oh sure, I had to have a couple of particularly horrible root canals in my 20s and early 30s, but then I mostly stopped having issues and starting having great teeth, except they tend to break but that can be ignored, right? Right.

I remain a wimp when it comes to dentists. I pride myself on not being a total baby, but I kind of am.

I do not go to dentists overseas, although I’m sure they’re fine. I have a very good dentist here in Portland, who (coincidentally? I think not)  has blue eyes, and I see him every 2 to 3 years and that works. And I have gone years and years without having cavities. I don’t have them anymore. So, naturally, I went in a couple of weeks ago (first time in 3 years) and was told I had a cavity. Not just any cavity, but a very large one that had handily formed between two back teeth, so that I would need 2 teeth filled. (He also fussily wants to deal with that tooth I broke in Morocco, but that’s not for weeks yet.)

To make it worse, Donn has gone his entire life without once having a filling. My children have gone their entire lives without having any cavities. I get no sympathy.

I went in yesterday morning. “How nice to see you,” said my kind, blue-eyed dentist. “I wish I could say the same thing!” I riposted. Then we got down to work, and it took ages. The drilling went on and on and on. It was miserable.

But I was happy, underneath it all. Or maybe content would be a better word. Because it was super unpleasant, and my mouth’s been quite painful today, but it was so much better than it could have been. I was quite philosophical, under the dentist’s drill, musing on dentistry 100 years ago and thinking I would probably be a toothless crone by now. I thought of modern-day dentistry in developing countries, and thought of Howa, a Mauritanian woman I knew who had a hole between her two front teeth. My guess would be she’s lost both teeth by now. Even my Iraqi refugee friends are having their teeth pulled, as their insurance doesn’t cover root canals and crowns and other “miracles” (said in dry tone) of modern dentistry. I’m really lucky. And now that my mouth has recovered, I can appreciate that.

And Donn actually has his first cavity in over 40 years of having teeth! I’m not gloating or anything. And no, I wasn’t mean enough to describe the drilling in great detail to scare him or anything. Not me. But seriously. WHO gets their first filling in middle age?

So I’m feeling a bit at a loss. Today was supposed to have 3 afternoon appointments, back to back, including a family for dinner. (Meal plan: schwarma bites (made with chicken and the wrong kind of pickles), Lebanese cinnamon chicken and rice, baked cauliflower, salad, fruit, strawberry claufouti.) And everything got cancelled. Beka has a doctor’s appointment, and the artist’s wife isn’t feeling well. The family that was supposed to come has a friend whose mother died so they are sitting with the bereaved today. I have the afternoon off, and it feels very strange. Even Elliot has a study session after school and will come home late.

I know what I should do. Laundry. Book reviews. Bathroom cleaning. Exercise. Yardwork. I hope I’m productive. Instead, I am feeling sort of like I was running full steam ahead and tripped, and now I don’t know what to do. I am usually very good at being flexible and changing plans, but for some reason I seem to be spending the afternoon staring out my window.

What about you? Are you good at switching gears at the last minute?

May 2011

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